The holiday season is fast approaching, but hackers don’t take vacations. Whether you’re planning to go home for the holidays or travel for business on a regular basis, make sure to protect yourself from cyber crime with these cyber security travel tips.

Update Your OS & Software

Before you leave, make sure your operating systems and software are up-to-date.

Take Only What You Need

Do you really need to pack 15 different electronic devices? The more devices you take, the more you’ll have to keep safe from hacking, theft, or accidents.

Lock Down Your Devices

Make sure that all the devices you are taking are protected with strong passwords, multi-factor authentication, or a biometric lock, and disable any file-sharing capabilities. Avoid taking devices that contain sensitive data. If you are a business traveler, ask your organization about lending you a disposable phone or laptop for use while traveling. If you cannot avoid traveling with a device that contains sensitive data, consider encrypting it using encryption software.

Beware of Public WiFi

Many airports, hotels, and restaurants offer free, unsecured public WiFi, which poses a multitude of cyber security risks. Avoid using these networks; tethering to your phone is a much safer option. If you absolutely must connect to a public WiFi network, follow these best practices from Continuum GRC.

Don’t Leave Devices Unattended

Lock up any devices left in hotel rooms, and never leave your devices unattended in public areas, not even for a moment. For example, never set your phone down on a counter while you reach into your purse or wallet. When using your devices in public areas — especially crowded ones — conceal your devices as much as possible. Keep them tucked inside interior pockets or hidden inside zippered bags, and make sure those bags never leave your possession.

Don’t Share Your Location on Social Media

Many social media sites have an option to “check in” to your current locale so that your followers can track you on your trip. The dark side is that hackers can also track your movements and use them to their advantage; for example, breaking into your home, office, or hotel room when they know you’re not there.

Don’t Share Your Phone

You may be approached by strangers with sob stories about losing their phone (or having it stolen) and needing to borrow yours to call for help. Never let strangers “borrow” your phone or any other device. It takes only a few moments for a skilled cyber criminal to use the occasion to install malware — or to simply run away and disappear into a crowd.

Don’t Use Bluetooth

Many rental cars allow travelers to connect their smartphones using Bluetooth. However, some vehicles store your personal information, such as your contact list, even after you’ve terminated the connection. Enabling Bluetooth connectivity also leaves your device vulnerable to hackers. Turn off Bluetooth before you leave for your trip, and don’t turn it back on until you get home.

Turn Off Network Auto-Connect

Many cell phones include a feature that enables them to automatically connect to available WiFi networks. Turn this feature off, not only when you travel but permanently. Telling your phone to automatically connect to any available network leaves you vulnerable to man-in-the-middle attacks.

Use Credit Cards, Not Debit Cards

Always use a credit card, not a debit card, when paying for hotel rooms or meals or making any other purchases on the road. Point-of-sale systems are major targets for hackers, and if your credit card data is stolen, you have far more recourse to get fraudulent charges refunded than you do with a debit card. This also prevents hackers from getting access to your bank account.

Author's Bio: 

Michael Peters is the CEO of Lazarus Alliance, Inc., the Proactive Cyber Security™ firm, and Continuum GRC. He has served as an independent information security consultant, executive, researcher, and author. He is an internationally recognized and awarded security expert with years of IT and business leadership experience and many previous executive leadership positions.

He has contributed significantly to curriculum development for graduate degree programs in information security, advanced technology, cyberspace law, and privacy, and to industry standard professional certifications. He has been featured in many publications and broadcast media outlets as the “Go-to Guy” for executive leadership, information security, cyberspace law, and governance.